NFC West lead still within Seahawks' reach after disappointing loss

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Free safety Earl Thomas sat with his back to his locker, staring intently at nothing after his defense allowed 27 points in the second half.

Michael Bennett angrily shooed reporters away from fellow defensive lineman Quinton Jefferson, who was reliving the ugly ending to a disappointing loss.

And Russell Wilson did what Russell Wilson does. He remained positive, reminding his Seattle Seahawks teammates in a downtrodden visitors locker room that everything is still in front of them even after falling 30-24 to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday at EverBank Field.

"We're playing for first place," Wilson repeated several times.

He was referring to next week's game against the Los Angeles Rams at CenturyLink Field, which indeed is an opportunity to take the NFC West lead. The Rams lost Sunday to the Philadelphia Eagles, dropping to 9-4 overall. The Seahawks fell to 8-5 but already have one win against the Rams, so another in the rematch would put them in first place with two games left by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker.

As silver linings go, that's a pretty good one.

Still, though, this loss stung. Asked if it's any easier to flush a game like this one out of their systems knowing the Rams are coming to town next weekend with first place on the line, Thomas was quick to answer that it is not.

"Right now, it's not because that was a subpar quarterback," he said, referring to Jacksonville's Blake Bortles. "You've got to take advantage of that stuff. They had a great game plan. They just out-executed us, which can't happen. We definitely want those types of games back. We've got to take advantage of that, but we didn't."

What happened to Seattle's defense was among several disappointing aspects of Sunday's game.

Wilson threw three interceptions, at least two of which appeared to be the result of uncharacteristically imprudent decisions. Right tackle Germain Ifedi committed four penalties (one was declined) to extend his NFL lead. The Seahawks' five first-half possessions yielded 133 yards and no points -- a return to their slow-starting ways on offense after a reprieve last week. Blair Walsh's accuracy was again an issue. He pushed a 38-yard field goal attempt wide right just before halftime, his sixth miss in the past six games.

The Seahawks have dealt with and overcome some of those issues before. What happened to their defense in the second half was less familiar, especially given how it has played of late. Seattle had looked more capable than expected of withstanding the season-ending injuries to Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor when it kept opponents to under 200 passing yards in both of its first two games without them. That was before Seattle held the Eagles and the NFL's highest-scoring offense to 10 points last week.

Seattle had allowed only a field goal in the first half Sunday before things fell apart in the third quarter. Bortles (18-of-27, 268 yards, two TDs, no INTs) threw touchdown passes of 18 and 75 yards, and the Jaguars found the end zone for a third straight possession when a long punt return set them up at the 1-yard line. Jacksonville racked up 262 yards in the second half, including 84 on the ground from Leonard Fournette.

Much of Jacksonville's second-half damage was done with Pro Bowl linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright on the sideline. Wright suffered a concussion, while Wagner reinjured the hamstring that has been bothering him for several weeks. Coach Pete Carroll didn't give any indication about their chances of playing next week.

All three of the Jaguars' third-quarter touchdowns came after Wagner left.

"Bobby and K.J., they've been a staple in the middle for a long time, so you lose all that experience they have, communication," Thomas said. "But I think we still fought, the guys that came in. They gave us a chance."

The Rams' offense was already going to be another test for Seattle's defense minus Sherman and Chancellor. Wagner, in the midst of season worthy of NFL Defensive Player of the Year consideration, may be the last player that group can afford to lose now, given the way he's playing and with an all-important game against the Rams up next.

Carroll already was looking forward to it, wanting to move on as quickly as possible from this one.

“We’ve been looking at this game coming up, that this could be the one for the division, to make a difference, and it’s a huge opportunity for us and for them as well," Carroll said. "So it should be a great matchup, and they’ve been playing great football. We look forward to getting ready.

"I can’t wait to get back. I wish we could just be back, but it’s going to take us a little while.”